"What was the point?" asks local resident Christine Smith "It's bad enough that our local Labour councillors withdrew support for this issue, it was worse when we were brushed aside by a panel that knew little about coal bed methane mining.
"In my opinion if the Council is not even prepared to listen to an MP, Barbara Keeley, with regards to objections, what chance do our ordinary citizens have?"
Yet again, residents who are objecting to developments in their area have left a planning committee meeting of Salford Council feeling that the councillors who sit on that committee are total muppets.
Nexen Exploration UK Ltd had put in a planning application for the mining of coal bed methane (cbm) on agricultural land owned by Peel Holdings on Barton Moss, Irlam. Or as the application stated…
"Drilling of two exploratory boreholes for coal bed methane appraisal and production. The construction of a new access road off Barton Moss Road. The installation of wells, production and power generating facilities and the extraction of coal bed methane and the subsequent restoration of the site"
Dozens of objections from local residents were sent to the Council, criticising everything from lack of information about the cbm process, to safety concerns, the lack of any local employment and the fact that the mine will mean more industrial development of the Green Belt, in this case a working farm.
The original planning meeting was deferred to enable councillors to visit a similar site at Doe Green in Warrington, to which local residents weren't invited. And the application came back to the planning committee yesterday.
Before the meeting we spoke to Jackie Anderson from Save Our North West Green Belt and Salford Friends of the Earth who said that not enough research had been done into the cbm process – "No-one knows enough about it" – and that residents had not been properly informed of the development plans – "Out of twelve farmers I spoke to, ten had no idea this was happening…They held a public exhibition of the plans; there were three days notice and virtually no publicity for it."
Jackie was even more angry that the Lead Member for Planning, Councillor Derek Antrobus, had put out a press release in March via the Salford Labour Party indicating that the party which controls Salford may do a u-turn on plans for industrial and warehousing use for Green Belt land (see here for further details)…
"On the current evidence I would recommend that the Council rejects the option to allocate green belt land" Antrobus stated, adding "I think it is fair to say that there has been overwhelming public concern about the suggestion."
THE PLANNING MEETING
The first things the officers of the Council stated was that the comments from Councillor Antrobus should not be taken into account because they were made in reference to future policy. This development application should be considered purely on the issues surrounding the Green Belt. Councillor Antrobus subsequently `moved to recommend' the proposal, arguing that "there are some things that are acceptable in the Green Belt", one of which was mineral extraction which "has value for the community".
Christine Smith, a local resident and member of Save Our North West Green Belt addressed the meeting, arguing that residents hadn't been informed properly of the development, and that, unlike councillors, residents hadn't had the chance for a site visit to another plant. She also drew the committee's attention to an objection letter from Worsley MP Barbara Keeley, which pointed out the issues surrounding Green Belt development and safety. Lib Dem leader, Norman Owen, also spoke at the meeting about safety concerns.
A spokesman for Nexen accused the objectors of "inappropriate" and "wrong allegations" against the company, saying that Nexen had "nothing to hide".
The councillors then discussed the proposal, which was more about the look of the site, the kind of fencing and shrubs, than what was actually going on there. No-one spoke against the proposal for mining within Salford's Green Belt.
"Trafford has its mining next to a sludge farm – we put ours right in the middle of the Green Belt" said Councillor Potter, who then voted for it to go ahead. The motion was passed unanimously.
It left objectors from the community affected feeling furious that their concerns hadn't been taken seriously by those who are supposed to represent them.
"Basically everything went to plan. Nexen's plan" said Christine Smith"It's bad enough that our local Labour councillors withdrew support for this issue, it was worse when we were brushed aside by a panel that knew little about c.b.m.
"The majority of members on the panel seemed more interested in site prettiness!" she added "Surely a more vested interest in site safety would have been better received by objectors to the proposal. It would be interesting to know whether, if the land concerned had not been owned by Peel Holdings, the proposal by Nexen would have been equally well received by Salford City Council.
"In my opinion if the Council is not even prepared to listen to an MP, Barbara Keeley, with regards to objections, what chance do our ordinary citizens have?
"The sooner the Council members take notice of the issues they are voting upon, and at least treat objectors with the same courtesy they give companies like Nexen etc, the better. If there had been an equal amount of people, taken at random from the street and placed on the panel, instead of those who were there, we would have probably had a more unbiased outcome. And that is quite sad, all things considered."